Lay down, Rooster!
Hmm, he doesn’t seem to have done anything. That’s because he’s waiting for me to tell him what to lay down. The verb lay requires a direct object, something that can be laid down (a toy, an egg, his spiffy bandana), but I didn’t specify, so he was right to wait for clarification.
OK, let’s try lie. Lie down, Rooster!
Good boy! When I tell him to lie down, I’m telling him that he needs to get himself down. Now that he’s down, he’s snoozing away. I really am going to let a sleeping dog lie. (Consider the titular question answered!)
Now let’s change tenses to talk about what Rooster did. Here’s where the word choices get tricky. Laid is the past tense of lay; lay is the past tense of lie. So, When I told Rooster to lay down, he didn’t know what I wanted laid down. When I told Rooster to lie down, he lay down.
Finally, laid is the past participle form of lay, and lain is the past participle form of lie.
Rooster had laid his rawhide chew in the ivy patch at the corner of the house.
Rooster has lain there for a while; should I wake him up?
The next time you are debating whether to use lay or lie, it may help to picture the standing dog who is waiting for instructions on what he should lay down or the lying dog who obediently followed the order to lie down.
Photo credits: @2013 by Stefanie Lazer.